New York terrorist attack suspect Sayfullo Saipov recently fell under ISIS’ sway, authorities say
Investigators and prosecutors are assembling a portrait of the man accused of carrying out the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001, as a recently radicalized immigrant who closely followed the ISIS playbook.
Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, a native of Uzbekistan with no serious criminal record, was charged in federal court Wednesday with one count of material support to a terrorist organization and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle. He said almost nothing at his initial court appearance Wednesday night, which he entered in a wheelchair.
Eight people were killed when a truck rented from Home Depot rammed into a crowd of people on a bike path in lower Manhattan on Tuesday. The driver, whom authorities identified as Saipov, then crashed into a school bus, jumped from the truck holding two imitation guns and shouted "Allahu Akbar" — Arabic for "God is Great" — before a New York police officer shot him in the stomach.
RELATED: What we know about the NYC truck attack suspect
Multiple law enforcement sources said it appeared that the attacker acted alone. But they said the FBI was questioning a second Uzbek national, whom they described as an associate of Saipov's who had been in contact with him in recent weeks, to find out what he might know.
The man wasn't himself believed to have been involved in the attack, the sources said, but investigators weren't ruling out the possibility that other people may have known about Saipov and even perhaps about his intentions. John Miller, the deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said investigators suspected that Saipov "will have some connectivity to subjects" who are or were previously under investigation.
Saipov, meanwhile, was boasting to his interrogators about the attack, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Questioned at a New York hospital, he showed no remorse, "stated that he felt good about what he had done" and asked to be allowed to display the ISIS flag, according to the complaint.
The complaint and the accounts of numerous investigators and other law enforcement sources, some of whom spoke publicly and others of whom spoke to NBC News on condition that they not be identified, described a fervent follower of the Islamic State terrorist group, or ISIS, who spent a year fashioning the attack to ISIS' specifications.
"He seems to have followed the regimen prescribed," Miller said, referring to a manual called "Just Terror Tactics," which ISIS had published late last year.
The manual instructs independent actors on how to maximize damage and casualties using unorthodox weapons like trucks, which are regulated far less stringently than firearms are. It reads, in part:
"Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner."
Until this week, Saipov lived quietly with his Uzbek-born wife in Paterson, New Jersey, usually making his living as a long-haul trucker and as a driver for the ride-sharing service Uber.
Former associates and neighbors in other cities where he has lived generally described him as not particularly friendly — an Uzbek community leader in Stow, Ohio, called him something of a hothead — but not as someone you would ever see morphing into a terrorist killer.
At some point, however, Saipov began avidly hoarding ISIS videos and other propaganda on two cellphones examined by investigators, according to the complaint and the accounts of law enforcement officials.
Saipov told investigators that one video in particular motivated him, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force said in an affidavit filed with the complaint. It was recorded by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and in it, he asked what Muslims in the United States and elsewhere were doing to respond to the killings of Muslims in Iraq.
It was about a year ago that Saipov began plotting the attack, according to the FBI affidavit. About two months ago, he decided that a truck was his weapon of choice, it said.
Two weeks ago, he searched the web for "Halloween in NYC," according to the FBI, citing the internet search history on one of his phones.
Saipov used his real name to rent the truck earlier Tuesday, according to the affidavit, which said Saipov reported that he needed the truck for only an hour and 15 minutes. The FBI said he told investigators that he initially wanted to fly ISIS flags from the front and the back of the truck — but that he decided against it "because he did not want to draw attention to himself."
After the assault on Tuesday, authorities found a note in Arabic and English about 10 feet from the truck. According to the FBI affidavit, it read:
"No God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet ... Islamic Supplication. It will endure."
"'It will endure' is commonly used to refer to ISIS,'" the FBI said